PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie sat at his locker yesterday, heavy rains confining him to the clubhouse and headphones funneling music into his ears, teammate Keith Reed strolled past and gave him a playful tap on the shoulder.
Reed kept moving as Bigbie spun around, both players now grinning.
It was quite a reversal, because Bigbie is the one who passed by Reed a long time ago.
They were drafted by the same organization in 1999, with two slots separating them. Bigbie went 21st out of Ball State University. Reed went 23rd out of Providence College.
The Orioles assigned them to Rookie League Bluefield before promoting them to low Single-A Delmarva later in the summer. But while Bigbie ascended to the majors in 2001 and began to establish himself last season, Reed wasn't included on the 40-man roster and barely got a look in Triple-A.
"For whatever reason," Bigbie said, "that happens in baseball sometimes."
It's rare for Bigbie and Reed to hang out in the same clubhouse anymore after their professional paths split like a fork in the road.
Reed is in camp only because Val Majewski underwent shoulder surgery last week and the Orioles needed an extra outfielder. Rather than drive to the minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla., Reed hopped a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., leaving behind his 1-year-old son, Taven.
"It's definitely tough," Reed said. "I'm excited about playing ball, but it [stinks] that you have to leave your boy."
Reed stayed back at Delmarva in 2000 until playing his last 65 games at high Single-A Frederick. Baseball America rated him as the Orioles' top prospect, but he hit .235 with the Keys and returned there the next season.
Bigbie, meanwhile, began 2000 at Frederick, hit .294 to make the Carolina League All-Star team and advanced to Bowie in the second half. By the time Reed got there in 2001, Bigbie already had spent two weeks with the Orioles after Chris Richard went on the disabled list, and later played at Triple-A Rochester.
"We kind of lost touch," Bigbie said.
Reed certainly lost his way.
According to present and past members of the organization, his attitude went south the longer he stayed at Bowie, where he has spent the past three years. After batting .246 with 15 homers in 2002, Reed was held back at the minor league camp for disciplinary reasons and missed the first month of the next season.
"There are probably a few little things I would have done differently," Reed said without being specific. "But overall, I give it my best effort every day. I wouldn't change too much."
Bigbie remembers sitting in his parents' house in Indiana with his college coach on draft day, waiting for a call after hearing he'd been slotted anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second. Reed hung out at his home in Yarmouth Port, Mass., expecting the Pittsburgh Pirates to contact him as promised.
"I took batting practice in Pittsburgh the day before and they were saying I could be taken eighth," he said. "A scout said, `We should be calling you around 2:30.' Well, 2:30 came and went."
The Pirates instead chose pitcher Bobby Bradley, and Reed, the Big East Conference Player of the Year as a junior, stayed on the board until the Orioles made their fourth selection of the round. Bigbie had gone two picks before, 21st overall.
"You don't know whether they're going to put us together and hopefully we'll play on the same field together, or we're going to be competing for the same spot," Bigbie said. "But once we started playing together, we figured that we'd have a chance to play beside each other in the big leagues."
Said Reed: "When me and Larry were playing together and became friends, I didn't see it as a competition. I rooted for him, he rooted for me.
"Larry just developed a little faster. Maybe it'll just take me a little more time. I know coming through the system, they saw me more as a raw athlete. Maybe it just took a little more time for me to hone those skills."
Besides a spring training reunion, Reed hasn't gotten closer to Bigbie than the 20 games he played at Rochester, the Orioles' former Triple-A affiliate, in 2001.
"I think what's held Keith back is poor strike zone knowledge," said Dave Trembley, Reed's former manager at Bowie, who moves up to Triple-A Ottawa this season.
"Early in his career, he struck out an awful lot, but you saw a lot of improvement last year. And he's starting to catch up. He's from the Northeast and didn't play a lot of baseball.
"Two other things that probably held him back were his work ethic and his attitude, but they've definitely improved. Keith is a guy with tools, a prototypical right fielder. He can run, hit with power and he has a plus arm. Last year was a breakthrough season for him."
Though Reed batted .295 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs in 121 games, the Orioles kept him at Bowie and off the 40-man roster, again leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Any team could have taken him. None did.